Lynne Harlan: Cherokees defend cultural rights
"Each spring I write about all the bounty our people harvest from the new growth in the region. We love to eat all the fresh greens lining the streams and the pearly white bulbs of the ramps which hide just beneath the carpet of leaves. This year our people are facing another challenge to that ages-old tradition. For Cherokee who have harvested in the mountains just beyond the official border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, that challenge is in federal court.

For anyone, Cherokee and non-Indian, it is illegal to take any plants from parklands. Our community understands the importance of sustainable harvest and of preservation of our natural resources. That understanding is what has sustained us for generations. Recently, several tribal members, including our elders, have been ticketed for illegal harvest. Their next step is to attempt to defend themselves in a court system and face fines and a felony record for their actions.

As our people go to federal court their rights to maintain our culture will not be addressed. Our people will be treated like tourists who pick flowers rather than humans seeking to live a healthful and balanced life. Our people do not dig and pick in areas that diminish the park experience for others. Our people use a resource that is rarely seen or noticed by visitors. If the national park is for all Americans, do we not deserve the right to utilize a resource which epitomizes our right to survive as a people? As the Great Smoky Mountains celebrates its 75th anniversary I believe it is time to rethink the old notions of preservation and define a new meaning for conservation."

Get the Story:
Lynne Harlan: Preservation, human need: Best to find some balance (The Asheville Citizen-Times 4/10)

Related Stories:
Lynne Harlan: Women in Cherokee society (3/27)

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